The term "rural health" encompasses more than just healthcare in small towns. It's a conversation about geography, accessibility, funding, and politics, all woven into a tapestry of the lived experiences of rural Kiwis.
The Opportunities Party (TOP) Party candidate for Epsom Dr Nina Su told REX host Dominic George that navigating New Zealand's healthcare system isn't an easy task in general, but is considerably more difficult for Kiwis living in rural areas.
"People who live more rurally basically just die more. They die sooner and they also die from more preventable illnesses," she said.
"We talk about Māori as a group that have worse health than everybody else, but that disparity for rural Māori is actually worse as well."
Among the many challenges that rural health faces, a glaring issue is the scarcity of General Practitioners (GPs). This scarcity, as Dr. Su explains, is rooted in the funding model set by the Ministry of Health.
"A lot of rural areas don't have enough GP. The books are closed... So over time, the capitation rates haven't kept up...there's nobody to replace them."
Dr Su believes the need for a more open debate and a thorough examination of the funding model could be a critical step towards improving rural healthcare in Aotearoa.
"What we need is people to really talk about where to from here, because I think the model is not working for GPs or a lot of GPs anyway, and it's not working for our patients."
International recruitment of rural GPs was another issue Dr Su identified that, if properly addressed, could play a key role in improving the health of rural Kiwis.
She told George that the current approach, offering relocation funding to support the recruitment of international GPs, is a short-term fix that does not address the underlying problems.
"Firstly, I think healthcare professionals are highly sought after around the world. So we're competing on a global market and I think people are realizing in the global market that actually New Zealand's not as attractive as it once was."
Elaborating on why as a doctor, she decided to get involved in politics, Dr Su underscored the importance of political engagement for health workers and unpacked her decision to run for the Opportunities Party (TOP).
"I thought, we need to do something about this and it just doesn't feel like the people in power actually understand what's going on."
Listen to the full chat between TOP MP Dr Nina Su and Dominic George above.